Milwaukee philanthropist Bill Radler, developer of the world’s best-selling rose, announced a $1 million donation to the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin during a press conference this morning. The largest gift ever received by ARCW from an individual, the donation was announced to coincide with National Philanthropy Day, held each year on Nov. 15.
Radler’s donation, to be spread out over the next three years, will help to fund ARCW’s mental health services. “Over the years, I have come to realize how precious and important mental health is,” Radler said. “The brain needs the body to be healthy. How can you achieve health if you are not mentally well?”
Radler has been an ARCW donor since 1992.
Mental health is a critical component of HIV/AIDS care, but one that needs more attention, said Kevin Roeder, ARCW director of behavioral health and wellness. Roeder estimated that Radler’s gift would allow ARCW to provide clients with 60 hours of psychiatric care per week, meaning counseling for 300 to 600 patients.
Half of Americans who are living with HIV have a diagnosable mental illness, including depression, Roeder said. And half of those, he added, have an alcohol and/or substance abuse problem.
Patients’ mental health problems often prevent them from achieving the strict adherence to their medication regimen that’s required to keep their viral loads undetectable. Maintaining a level of virus that’s beneath detectability does not mean that patients are cured, but it means less damage to their immune systems and much less likelihood of them spreading the virus to others.
Roeder said if patients miss as few as two days of pills in one month, they can develop resistance to the medication they skipped.
“Will’s generosity will allow ARCW to hire a full-time psychiatrist for our patients,” said ARCW president and CEO Mike Gifford. “Will’s gift is breaking down barriers to care and ensuring our patients have the best chance for long-term survival with HIV."
Radler said he hopes his gift will inspire others to contribute to the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, which in Milwaukee disproportionately affects young gay and bisexual men of color.
“This crisis is not over,” Radler said. “Don’t turn away from it, return to it. Invest in it. There’s never been a better time, because success can be achieved on so many levels now.”